Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ENG 165 / Writing the Essay
Bro. Robert Peach, FSC
Second Semester, 2009

A Prefatory Note: Course Philosophy

I have a hard time with the name of this course, Writing the Essay. I find it somewhat confining because of the word, “essay.” It connotes the sort of dread and boredom that comes with the daunting prospects of having to write yet another paper, project or assignment—whatever you want to call it—for Mr. Whoever or Mrs. Whatsherface.

Admittedly, the name is appropriate since the aim of this course is to put together words and ideas to make sentences and paragraphs that expose or communicate a unifying theme or subject of discourse. That’s the nature of essay writing, yes.

But, what about the thing that’s actually required of the person who is writing? What about that secret life in all of us that inspires and motivates? What about the nature of the things we are actually observing, speculating and writing about? How keenly are we actually listening to the pieces of narrative—that is the stories or essays—constantly taking shape within and around us?

That’s what this course is about: composition, “the act of combining parts or elements to make a whole.” It’s about creating something and therefore has everything to do with possibility. Writing, composing, involves the making of something as yet unseen, unheard, or unwritten. That said, if I were to rename the course, I think I might call it something like, Composing Possibility: Essay as Narrative, or, Writing to Learn, or, Composing the Essay. There is something misleading about the drab, Writing the Essay. I don’t think it communicates very well the nuances of what writing is really all about: conversation, experience, movement, consciousness, intellectual ability, art, the senses, feeling, reason, faith, hope, love, and truth.

That’s a lot, write? Heh, I mean, right?

Well, at its most basic, this course is to provide us with models for good writing from expert writers in fiction, poetry, public speech, and essay who speak mostly in prose, as we will hear from them, and are approaching a range of subjects from the vantage point of various disciplinary backgrounds: philosophy, politics, psychology, spirituality, and theology. As renowned writer of the American South, Flannery O’Connor, says in a collection of lectures called, Mystery and Manners, “One thing that is always with the writer—no matter how long he has written or how good he is—is the continuing process of learning how to write” (83). And so we all—myself included—are to approach this course with the same objective, to become something better than what we were previously as thinkers and as writers. It’s on ongoing process of revision, but one that no one deeming himself a student of writing or a writer, for that matter, can escape.

Whatever we write—be it the formal paper for a class, the college application essay, the piece of poetry, or the work of fiction—is an autobiography, reflecting some piece of our individual histories, our prejudices, and the cultures in which we have grown up. Whether you are conscious of it or not, your choice of language and the subject matter you choose to address in a piece of writing gives you and your audience a glimpse into your deeper self—that bit of being that no one gets a chance to see on a regular basis. That is the beauty of writing in whatever form; it gives us the chance to reflect and, in reflecting, to respond to those deeper insights that churn inside of our mind and heart.

This course is thus undergirded by a philosophy which espouses the written word as a creative means to navigate previously unforeseen territory in our individual consciousness. In this way, writing becomes a vehicle for self-expression—not so much a chore as an opportunity to travel, to re-create, and to simply “be.”

That said, I challenge you to take this course as a way to access those deeper parts of self, to explore the world around you through the written word, and to develop a language for yourself that bespeaks a hidden reality behind that persona—i.e. that “front”—we all put up on a daily basis, either because we are too caught up in the “busy-ness” of life or because our ego tells us there is no use for the reflective space which writing provides.

But that’s just it! It is through writing that histories are written and that the “business” of the world is both communicated and carried out.

So, let your histories speak through this course and beyond the bounds of this classroom. Let the world hear your voice.

Introduction: Course Objective

“Writing the Essay” is to serve as a foundational course for college writing. With focus on the development of both vocabulary, argument, exposition, and style in writing, the course aims to provide upperclassmen with an adequate basis for thinking more critically and analytically—a skill set that will be of crucial importance in the collegiate environment. After all, good writers make good thinkers.

The course will involve the study of writers including (in no particular order): Samuel Hazo, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Thomas Merton, Cornel West, Martin Luther King, Jr., Madeleine L’Engle, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Mumia Abu-Jamal, St. Augustine, Richard Rohr, and Joseph Campbell.

By the example of such expert writers, we will discuss the nature of writing as revelatory—of revealing to us things, in their essence, that too often go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. These writers have much to offer us in the way of reading deeply into our experiences and becoming deep thinkers—as writers—ourselves. We will therefore use these writers as models for our own writing.

Each week, I will assign a text or texts to be read from a self-made reader. I will concurrently assign a 25 point written reflection of no more than three pages in response to the assigned readings. There are about thirteen essays that we will read, which will take us through the semester.

There will be a major writing assignment due at the end of the semester that is worth 100 points.

I will assign journal and online weblog, or blog, reflections periodically throughout the semester as well. Such assignments usually total no more than 10 points each.

Course Material Requirements:

A three-ring binder with your name, my name, course number, and semester indicated on the front cover or inside front cover. It will be crucial that you have this as a text covering for the materials (i.e. “fun-packs”) that I will assign. There will be many!

A black-bound, Moleskin journal (purchase from BNN or Border’s).

A manila folder with your name, my name, course number, and semester indicated on the front cover or insight front cover.

A black or blue pen for journal assignments.

Course Rules:

Read, read, read! Underline, underline, underline! Highlight! Jot notes in the margins of your text! Respond to comments the authors make in your journals! Imitate!

Listen attentively to instructor and classmates when they are speaking.

No foul language. No racism, agism, sexism, homophobia, or otherwise. This is a setting that promotes diversity, tolerance, and the non-violent peace teachings of Christ. Make the Beatitudes your attitudes!

Come to class on time. While I allow for some free conversation before class gets underway, I expect your full quiet and attention by the time prayer starts. If you have any poetry or reflections you would like to use for prayer, please let me know, and we will use that to get things started.

I will not accept any excuses for late assignments without an automatic five-point penalty for each day an assignment is late. I will not accept anything that is untyped.

I think that’s it. Again, please take this course seriously. If you elected to be here then expect to work. We are dealing with materials that are on the caliber of an honors-level course. Consider yourselves budding scholars and take yourselves seriously!

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